Last week we examined how the manufacturing of clothing, our use of it, and how we discard of unwanted articles can have a negative impact on the environment. I want to be a good steward of the earth, but I’m not about to go without clothes!
What are some green choices we can make when choosing, wearing, and disposing of clothes? Check out these ideas.
Reducing the environmental harm caused by clothing
- Select quality items. Many clothing manufacturers do not make clothes to last. They actually promote obsolescence by using low-quality materials and workmanship so that consumers will have to purchase new clothes. By carefully examining clothes and only choosing those that will last, we can reduce our need to purchase additional items.
- Choose timeless styles. Another way that manufacturers promote obsolescence is by creating new “must-have” fashions each season. In reality, we don’t need new styles each season. If we choose timeless fashions, we can look fashionable without purchasing new items.
- Pick fabrics carefully. Synthetic fibers (e.g., polyester, nylon, acrylic) are made from petroleum and are similar to plastics in that they release harmful substances when they are manufactured and take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Natural fibers (e.g., cotton, bamboo, wool) biodegrade more quickly. However, there are better and worse choices among natural fibers.
- Conventionally grown cotton accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States. If possible, select organic cotton items.
- Bamboo is a great choice, but those labeled “bamboo-based rayon” have been processed with toxic chemicals. Avoid these when possible.
- Other good choices include wool (particularly chlorine-free wool from humanely-treated animals), tencel, and industrial hemp.
- Buy used. Many individuals sell their used clothes or give these to charity thrift stores. A good portion of these items are stylish and in great shape! By purchasing these, we can save money and prevent clothes from ending up in landfills.
- Wear clothes for as long as possible. By wearing clothes until they fall apart or no longer fit, we reduce our need for clothes and avoid contributing to the overwhelming amount of clothes that are gotten rid of each year by Americans. In order to do this, we must resist the cultural pressure to purchase this season’s “must-haves.” It’s also helpful to enlist strategies that make clothes last longer so that our clothes stay in great shape.
Disposing of clothes
- Give them away. One of the most popular ways to dispose of clothes is to give them to charity thrift stores. As we saw last week, thrift stores are only able to sell about 20% of the clothes that are donated to them. There are other options that may increase the chance that our used clothes end up in the hands of individuals who want and need them.
- Consignment stores. In my town, there are a number of consignment stores that help individuals sell their used clothes (the clothes must be in very good condition). If you have any of these in your community, then this is a great way to make a little money as you get your clothes to people who want them.
- Charities that serve specific populations. If we donate certain types of clothes to charities that serve specific populations, it is often more likely that these clothes will be used instead of being discarded. For example, we can donate women’s workwear to charities that help single moms get jobs and coats to homeless shelters who are having coat drives.
- Handing them down to friends or family members. My husband and I have only purchased a couple of clothing items for our kids. Why? Because they’ve been given so many hand-me-downs that we haven’t needed to buy clothes! Though these clothes are used, they are “new” to us and we love them! It’s likely you know a loved one who would appreciate your hand-me-downs, too! This practice isn’t limited to kids’ clothing. Adults also benefit from hand-me-downs.
- Reuse the clothes. There are an unbelievably wide range of ways to reuse clothing items. Buttons, elastic, and zippers can be used to repair other clothing. Clothes can be cut up and sewn into quilts. Baggy shirts can be used as aprons or smocks. A simple search on Google or Pinterest will give you more ideas than you can use! Check out my Reuse and Upcycle board on Pinterest where I’ve saved many useful and fun ideas.
Chances are that you already use a number of these commonsense strategies (I certainly do). Most of the others seem easy enough to implement. Do you agree?
What eco-friendly approaches do you use when buying, wearing, or getting rid of clothes? Please share these with us below.